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Cage The Elephant

Drawing on a raft of influences from ARCTIC MONKEYS and The LIBERTINES to The BLACK KEYS and The STROKES, eclectic alt-rock combo CAGE THE ELEPHANT hail from the unlikeliest of origins – Bowling Green, Kentucky, USA. Whether the lads’ll rekindle the glories of old they’d conquered on 2011’s `Thank You, Happy Birthday’ near chart-topping set is anybody’s guess, but with killer sounds unleashed from singer Matt Shultz and Co, one wouldn’t bet against it.
In 2006, Matt quit his day job as a site construction plumber and member of the experimental Left Nostril combo, roping in older brother Brad Shultz (guitar), Daniel Tichenor (bass), Jared Champion (drums) and youngster Lincoln Parish (lead guitar), to form CAGE THE ELEPHANT – the moniker chosen from a connect-the-dots competition on the back of a cereal box.
Taking themselves to the South by Southwest festival in 2007, the lads found an unlikely alliance in Relentless Records (a company based in the UK), who’d on their roster, KT TUNSTALL and SETH LAKEMAN. CAGE THE ELEPHANT were found digs in Leyton on the fringes of London (16-year-old Parish was granted guardianship to the band by his parents), and through promotion via a support slot to QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE, anticipation was rife for the band to emerge relatively fast. Third time lucky with UK Top 40 entry, `Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked’ (`Free Love’ and `In One Ear’ had failed to register), summer 2008 looked bright for the similar-fated eponymous debut set, CAGE THE ELEPHANT {*8}. Produced by Jay Joyce, an R&B/funk/punk motif was in order, whilst punters could point to BECK, RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS and The ROLLING STONES for the easiest pigeonhole to reference. The screaming `James Brown’ track and The HIVES-like `Tiny Little Robots’ were among the grittiest on show, and now back in home-soil America interest came through Jive Records, who belatedly unleashed the set the following March; with promotion on the Late Show with David Letterman and a Lollapalooza appearance, `…Wicked’ and `Back Against The Wall’ were issued to coincide with their renewed resurgence.
Taking a whole two years to come up with sophomore set, THANK YOU, HAPPY BIRTHDAY (2011) {*7}, anticipation was such that it shot into the US Top 3 and UK Top 30, but out-of-step references to nostalgic alt-rock/indie trappings were criticised by discerning critics who’d distanced themselves from CTE’s retro-rock. While the track `2024’ might’ve suggested a visionary outlook, `Aberdeen’, `Indy Kids’, `Shake Me Down’ and the PIXIES-esque `Around My Head’ were blasts from the past, albeit hot and tasty.
Signing off with a DVD/CD package, LIVE FROM THE VIC IN CHICAGO (2012) {*7} – featuring a cover of TALKING HEADS’ `Psycho Killer – a contract on R.C.A. Records helped un-CAGE THE ELEPHANT’s desire to emulate their idols on 2013’s MELOPHOBIA {*7}. Enlisting The KILLS’ Alison Mosshart for the scuzzy `It’s Just Forever’, whilst echoes of psych, soul and new wave rang true on `Spiderhead’, `Take It Or Leave It’ and `Black Widow’, the Top 20 album more than compensated PIXIES fans until 2014 and their comeback “Indie Cindy”.
Whoever thought delivering CTE’s fourth studio set in no-go-area December must’ve had a brain by-pass, because in its unconventional, uncommercial schedule (one knows that COLDPLAY did this also), this decision affected sales-figures and necessary end-of-year poll status. Now without Parish; replaced live by guitarist Nick Bockrath, the DAN AUERBACH-produced TELL ME I’M PRETTY (2015) {*7} was limited to a #26 peak position, even though `Cry Baby’, `Mess Around’, `Trouble’ and the sleazy The STOOGES-esque `Portuguese Knife Fight’, were four tracks to fire-up any swaggering soiree.
21 tracks in all, 2017’s UNPEELED {*7} was CAGE THE ELEPHANT’s live “re-workings” double-set that stripped away the sonic hot fuzz – for the most part – and substituted it with simple, 60s-styled double-tracking and tape delay. It was recorded at various venues across the States. Their tastiest tracks under one roof, concert faves such as `Come A Little Closer’ et al, sat comfortably alongside covers of WRECKLESS ERIC’s `Whole Wide World’, DAFT PUNK’s `Instant Crush’ and The STRANGLERS’ `Golden Brown’.
Dumbing-down their raucous cellar-rock, a heartbroken Matt Schultz took CAGE THE ELEPHANT to a fresh plateau by way of Top 30 album, SOCIAL CUES (2019) {*7}. Matt had indeed gone through a divorce, and exploring his deep emotional agenda (the exceptions being brisk opener `Broken Boy’ and `Tokyo Smoke’), several of the songs were lighter and pop-trendier. One could also taste the marmite in some polar reviews. Roping in BECK to embolden the collaborative cod-reggae single, `Night Running’ (the sleeve was similar to the man’s “Midnite Vultures” set), CTE spun a modern twist in every which way but loose. `Ready To Let Go’ weaved a little soul-rock into the equation, and for the most part, producer John Hill – who’d worked with FLORENCE – made his mark on pop diversions, `Black Madonna’, the “Ashes To Ashes”-tinged title track and the orchestrated `Dance Dance’.
© MC Strong/MCS Jan2016-Jun2019

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